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Photo credit: KU Children’s Services (Hunter Region)

Congratulations you’re pregnant! Now you have to think about childcare if you wish to return to work or study. Here’s some advice on how to find and choose an early childhood service in Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and the Hunter. If you’re concerned about securing child care, consider a variety of options. These include long day care, family day care and private nannies and also friends and family. Oh and start putting your name down for child care as soon as you find out you’re pregnant!

Long Day Care & Preschools

There are many child care centres in the region. For a list of child care centres near you, visit the Australian Government site mychild.gov.au. This useful website provides a description of the service and has information about vacancies, fees and quality assessments. It also provides information on payments that you may be eligible for such as Child Care Rebate (CCR) and Child Care Benefit (CCB).

Long day care/childcare centres provide care and early education programs for children aged from birth–5 years, and are open for longer hours year round, whereas preschools are just for children aged 3-5 years and offer more similar hours and days to schools.

Remember, all centres are not equal – some are not-for-profit and community based, some are run by small, private operators while others are larger corporate entities. In choosing a centre, check the rating under the National Quality Standard – the ratings are independently assessed by the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) and must be displayed.

Also, parents should focus on a centre that has a play-based program, based on children’s interests, that provides a seamless transition to school at age 5 without an emphasis on worksheets, stencils or adult prepared craft activities. Schools don’t ask if children can read or know their sounds – that’s for kindergarten. Be careful of a centre that has a heavy emphasis on academic skills – children need to play to learn.

To find out what centres best suit your child, do some research and visit individual day care centres. Tour the facility and observe how the children behave and how they interact with staff members. Ask if a qualified early childhood trained teacher is employed in the centre, especially in the preschool room.

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Photo credit: KU Children’s Services (Hunter Region)

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the Centre Director or staff about facilities, activities and routines. After all, your child will be in their care and you need to feel comfortable that your child will be happy and safe. Also, ask your friends and family for recommendations about child care centres. They should be able to provide honest feedback about their experience

Here are some tips for securing a child care place

  • Put your name down early for child care as waiting lists can be very long. My friend had to wait a year and a half to get her son into the day care of her choice. Kate said the first time she rang and checked the list after about three months that her son was still a fair way from the top. When she rang the second time after about six months, he had disappeared from the list completely but thankfully after a day of searching he was found again! The third call about a year later found him third from the top and he got a space a few months later in time to start in the new year.”
  • Don’t hassle the staff.  A former staff member advises not being too pushy. “As a past Director, I didn’t like being chased weekly by parents trying to get a position, however I would suggest when a parent visits a centre they like the look of, they talk to the Director or staff and form a friendship with them – I received a hand written thank you note after one such visit and it helped me to remember the child and the family when it came to offering a position down the track. However with strict government guidelines about the order that places should be offered, I would also suggest that the sooner you get your child’s name on the waitlist, the better – even before your child is born at some centres.”
  • Register at a number of child care centres. This will maximise your chances of getting day care. For popular child care centres, it may be impossible to get a place as siblings get priority over families on a waiting list.
  • Choose day cares which have multiple locations. This may improve your chances of securing care. You may have to initially accept a place in a centre further from home or work but can always move to a more convenient centre when vacancies arise.  In Newcastle & the Hunter, large day care organisations include KU Children’s Services, Goodstart (formerly ABC Learning),  Kindy Patch and Mission Australia Early Learning Services.
  • Get creative. It would be convenient to secure a child care spot close to home or work but that may not be feasible. Think about locations near friends, family member or public transport locations.  A day care manager I spoke to informed me of a mum she knew who lived in Lake Macquarie but drove to a Stockton child care centre to drop her kids off and then took the ferry to work in Newcastle CBD.
  • Choose Public Holiday days. Mondays and Fridays are the least selected days so if you nominate these days, you may have an increased chance of obtaining childcare.
  • Ensure your contact details (phone number and email) are up to date. Do phone the day care once every few months to review where you are on their list but don’t hassle them.
  • Be prepared to accept one day at first. Once your child is in day care, you’ll receive first notice about vacancies.
  • Ask your friends, family or neighbours if they can enquire at their child care centre about current or future vacancies. My friend Anne was upset at work after finding out that her family day care provider would no longer be providing childcare after that week.  A co-worker immediately phoned her day care centre and spoke to the Centre Manager about possible vacancies.  Success – my friend managed to get a place for her son the following week.
  • Don’t panic if you haven’t put your name down for child care yet.  I hadn’t registered at any child care centres when I returned to work part-time.  Through a combination of my husband working rotating shifts and my parents, we were able to manage without formal child care. This changed dramatically when my husband was offered a transfer closer to home but his shift was changed to day work. This meant an immediate need for child care.  After making a list of preferred child care centres, I rang the first one on my list. Luckily, they just had a vacancy announced for a single day that no one wanted. I accepted the place, enrolled my child and a couple of months later managed to add another day.
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Photo credit: KU Children’s Services (Hunter Region)

Family Day Care

If you like the idea of care at home for your child, consider Family Day Care. Educators provide care for children up to 12 years of age in their own homes and are supported by a local coordination unit. Some parents prefer Family Day Care as children receive quality care at home with just a small number of peers as opposed to more children in Long Day Care. In Family Day Care, there are mandated limits to how many children can be in the care of an educator. Family Day Care is flexible and can cover full-time, part-time, casual, extended hours, before and after school, weekends and even overnight stays depending on educator availability.

Educators are self-employed and are required to have qualifications such as a Certificate IV in Children’s service, a First Aid Certificate and Working with Children clearance.  The costs of Family Day Care depend on individual educators who set their own fee schedule. Most educators charge on an hourly basis, per child. Different rates apply depending on the times or days required, or whether weekends or overnight care is required. Parents are eligible to the same CCB and CCR subsidies.

In the Newcastle and Hunter Region, there are a few Family Day Care Centres such as Five Star Family Day Care which covers Newcastle, Maitland, Port Stephens, Cessnock, Dungog and Singleton and Lake Macquarie Family Day Care supported by Lake Macquarie City Council.

Nanny

It’s easy to regard nannies as a perk for wealthier families but if you require guaranteed childcare in order to return to your job, it’s an option to consider. In fact if you have a couple of children or share the nanny with another family, the cost can be comparable to childcare.

You can either try to secure your own nanny or go through an agency. In Newcastle, Rockmybaby provides nannies and babysitters. Their candidates have extensive experience in working with children as well as having a Working with Children check, Criminal Record Clearance, current Apply First Aid certificate, including CPR and contactable references.

Nanny share arrangements are becoming more popular.  This is where two families share the cost of having a nanny. This works especially well when the children are similar ages and can be a wonderful way for them to socialise in the home environment, under the guidance of a dedicated carer who has knowledge of child development and can plan appropriate learning experiences.

As well as sharing the cost of hiring a nanny, the location of the child care can alternate between each family’s home, say weekly or fortnightly, so that each family gets the extra benefits of having a nanny for pick ups, nursery duties, children’s meal preparation and laundry for example.

Linda Dawson from Rockmybaby, a Newcastle based Nanny Agency advises that their professional, qualified nannies in the Hunter Region will cost between $25 and $28 per hour for care, for up to four children.  Some nannies are registered carers, which means that the families employing them can claim up to $35.40 in CCB per week (max 50 hours) for in-home child care, per child.

Rockmybaby strongly advises that families and nannies have a written employment agreement in place.  When hiring a nanny there are added costs to consider such superannuation (a legal entitlement for any employee working in excess of 30 hours per week) , insurances such as Work Cover, taxation responsibilities and whether you are going to pay leave entitlements such as holiday pay and sick leave etc.

Family and Friends

When you’re returning to work, it’s lovely to have family or friends look after your child. If you’re in this category, consider yourself lucky. However, there are a few things to consider. Suggest if they haven’t already received training, that they complete a first aid course. St. John’s Ambulance offers a one-day in Caring for Kids. They may want to get vaccinations up to date. Whooping cough vaccinations are recommended for anyone looking after kids.

Also, ensure that you and your carer have similar expectations on caring for your child such as food, discipline and activities. If a routine is important to you and your child, provide information about their schedules including sleep and play times so that children have continuity.  If you are paying friends and family for childcare and they are registered with the Department of Human Services as registered care providers, you may be eligible to receive a CCB.

No matter what route you choose in securing child care, good luck and above all, make sure that your child is safe and contented.

If you have any other hints on achieving childcare, please share. I would love to hear them!